The Investigators

Nov 13, 2012 12:35 AM by Nichole Szemerei

How SB 1070 is affecting Tucson officers

TUCSON - SB 1070 bears many connotations, and whether good or bad in your mind, it's the law. News 4 Tucson's Nichole Szemerei rode along with a Department of Public Safety officer to investigate the biggest problem facing law enforcement. Though the workload hasn't increased, what's really weighing on some officers is the perception people have of them since this highly controversial law passed.

License, registration and proof of insurance -- the three things every officer demands on a routine traffic stop. Since 1070 went into effect in June, Officer Figueroa says protocol hasn't changed.

"Like everybody has to, like I have to when I'm driving my own car - I have to provide license, registration and insurance, so there's no need for that conversation to go any further," Officer Figueroa said.

It's when that can't be provided that there's an issue. Figueroa hasn't had any stops involving illegal immigrants since the law went into effect, but if he did, he says it wouldn't be a result of racial profiling.

"Since SB1070 came out, I have had in the most recent time one individual that claimed 'you stopped me because I was Mexican' kind of deal."

For Figueroa, it's the resistance that's been the hardest thing. It doesn't matter that the officer himself is Hispanic.

"I think they're focusing on the patch and the uniform itself," he said.

He's been trying to prove that drivers aren't being targeted based on what they or their car look like. During our ride along, Officer Figueroa stopped to help a family. After he got them safely on their way, I asked why he didn't get any information.

"I have no need to go further other than that," he said. "There is nothing illegal that I could see that was going on, other than somebody off the side of the road trying to change a flat tire with his family."

Officer Figueroa may not racially profile, but groups like ‘Derechos Humanos' say they are getting calls.

"We get calls on a weekly basis that this happens, some members of our organization get calls almost on a daily basis from people," said Director Kat Rodriguez.

The common thread is fear.

"The fact that people are feeling afraid or not feeling sure or feeling uncomfortable around law enforcement is one of the biggest problems of laws like SB 1070," she said.

Rodriguez tells people to be prepared to provide a driver's license, proof of insurance and registration.

"Beyond that, who they are and how they live their lives is not something that I, as a citizen of the United States, really care about," Officer Figueroa said.

The department says if they provide those three things then they move along and they don't ask any further questions, but Rodriguez has heard otherwise.

"That's not true, we have consistently had people who have provided their license, registration, and proof of insurance, and have been asked additional questions," she said.

It may be happening, but not on Figueroa's watch.

"This officer made the stop, he was professional, this is what I did wrong, he gave me the documentation and then we moved on about our business," he says.

There has been one complaint to DPS in relation to SB 1070. The department says it was found to be invalid after an investigation.

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